29 January 2011

There are so many things that we take for granted

My voluntary poverty has taught me that sometimes less is more, but also some things that most people consider a mandatory requirement is a luxury to most people in the world.  This isn't meant to be an open complaint nor a plea for help; just some of my thoughts and lessons.

We're all lucky to have (especially city folk):
  1. Running hot water
  2. A flushing toilet
  3. A well-insulated house
  4. Heat with a thermostat
  5. Plumbing that goes away from our houses
  6. The ability to shower whenever we want
If you truly think for just a second, most of the people in the developing world (around 4 billion people) do not have these things.  I am forever grateful when I do have access to these luxuries and you, my friends, are lucky too.  Not having these things makes life a little slower, a little more of a process, but each in their own way helps one appreciate the connectedness of our existence with the rest of the world.

Our waste water has to go somewhere, mine goes into a bucket and then gets dumped outside nearby.  Our heaters have thermostats, I am the yurt's thermostat.  Our hot water has to get warmed by burning some type of fuel, my fuel is the wood in the wood stove.  Despite my having to wake up once a night to get the fire going again, I can smile at it and have a good sense of my place in the world.  I am in tune with the weather and temperature.  I am acutely aware of the lengthening of days as spring quickly approaches as every day the sky gets brighter earlier and the chickens follow suit.  I also get to see the billions of stars that slowly rotate in a sparkling mosaic across the blue-black canvas above, Orion, Cassiopeia, and the seven sisters greeting me as I walk home from the farmhouse to the yurt.

A good meal, a warm fire, and some peanut butter are all I need to be happy at the end of the night.  I have access to all the winter veggies I want, some meat, and then some.  Life is pretty good if you ask me.  If you haven't tried the winter squash recipe I posted before, you're missing out on a piece of heaven.  I've become a squash addict over the last week.

Roasted Winter Vegetables
This recipe is somewhat adapted from a cookbook, but also suggestions.

  • however many winter veggies you want to eat (carrots, winter squash, rutabaga, kohlrabi (tastes like broccoli but in root form), turnips, celeriac, winter squash, and winter squash)
  • a couple tablespoons of olive oil 
  • a healthy sprinkling of dried herbs like thyme, rosemary, and oregano
Slice these, except the winter squash, into 1/4 inch slices.   If you don't like to eat the squash skins, you will want to peel them first.  Cut the squash into 1/2 inch slices.  Toss the ingredients until everything is coated in oil and place them into a baking pan.  Heat your oven to 450F and cook for a half hour or so until all the veggies are tender.  Simple, delicious, filling.  Buckwheat Blossom's mutton sausage goes well with this...

Other quick updates, I will be doing more horse logging next week after doing it all this week.  I'll let you know about the experience of learning to drive horses while they're dragging a 40 foot log through 2 feet of snow.  I was so tired last night I literally got home from the farmhouse and fell asleep at 9pm.

PS - Shoutout to Candace and Freeman!  Thanks for the olives, reading material, and slippers!  Most of all, I'm addicted to Candace's German chocolate dough balls.  You should seriously consider baking those and selling them!  I'm also glad you guys have decided to work to help people in the Dominican Republic.  It is a beautiful thing you are doing.

Til next week, stay toasty!  Some pictures (finally) below...

The yurt, with Tacoma as a reference (A professional photographer, I am not)

The door that humans and dogs use.  The mice like to climb in elsewhere.
The Office

How I look while working but with shirts on.

22 January 2011

I know I'm doing something right when...

my past self would never believe the things that I’m doing today.  Life is like a box of chocolates and such.  You can’t predict or plan the future, but you can plan for the future.  You make the best of what you’ve got and achieve something meaningful, personally awarding, challenging, and worthwhile.  I suppose it is this philosophy that meshes so well with both my own personality and farming that really has lead me to the present.
A short list of things I have accomplished this week (and not done before):
·       shape an axe handle, place the head on the handle, and grinding down a piece of metal that keeps the head in place
·       sharpened chainsaws
·       learned to directionally fell trees
·       build a shelf (Ikea does not count)
Speaking of the present, I am presently tired.  Waking up at 4:30-4:45 AM on Saturdays is extremely tiring despite the excitement that market brings.  It doesn’t help that I woke up in the middle of the night to get the fire going again and couldn’t go back to sleep for a couple of hours because I was thinking about the horses. 
Friday I drove the horses for the first time and it was simply exhilarating.  I learned to brush and harness the horses; this time it was Bill and Perry, the two 16-year-old red Belgians.  Jeff and I (along with Ross, a former apprentice hitchhiking) hooked up a small sleigh to the horses in order to bring feed and hay to the chickens and sheep, respectively.  Along the way, close enough to the sheep, the sleigh tipped over along with Ross and I.  Luckily there is no shortage of snow since it snowed another good foot yesterday. 
On the way back to the house, the sleigh’s evener (a part of the sleigh that evenly distributes the load during turns) hit a stump and broke.  So began my extreme cardio workout of ground-driving the horses through two feet of snow with Jeff leading us down the trail.  Without getting into too much detail, I felt like I just ran a marathon because I had to walk quickly and with reins in hand controlling the horses.  Getting back to the house, we had to unharness and brush the horses again.  Doesn’t sound too bad until you realize the horses’ shoulders are 6 feet.  What is nice about the brushing is that you do get to establish a relationship with them; a most crucial part to being able to work with them.
That’s why I’m so tired.  THE END.  Oh yeah, cutting trees down is the shiznat!  More on the chainsaw part of logging another time.  THE END for real.

"In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty" - Bob Marley

Baked Squash and Apples (from Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert)
·       2 pounds winter squash, peeled, seeded, fibers removed (it calls for butternut but I used acorn squash too) and cut into ½-inch slices
Place these into a baking dish
·       2-3 apples (cored and cut into ½-inch slices)
Place on top of the squash.
·       1/3 cup brown sugar (I just threw a little honey on top)
·       3 tablespoons butter (melted)
·       1 tablespoon flour
·       1 teaspoon salt
·       ¼ teaspoon mace (??)
·       I put some cinnamon since, well cinnamon and apples are a winning combo
Combine these last ingredients in a bowl and sprinkle on top of the squash and apples.  Cover and bake at 350F until squash is tender, 40-50 minutes.  It’ll take longer, as it did for me, if they are piled high.  Final step, close your eyes and enjoy the sweet combination of winter squash and apples.  Blink, savor, repeat.

16 January 2011

Recipe of the Week - January 16, 2011

Hearty Lentil Stew (from Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert)
·       4 cups / 1 L water
·       1 cup / 250 ml dried lentils
·       1 cup / 250 ml fresh or canned tomatoes (chopped)
·       4 large carrots (chopped)
·       2 onions (chopped)
·       1 teaspoon dried thyme
·       ½ teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano
·       2 tablespoons dry sherry (optional…I don’t get this ingredient but I think the authors have a propensity to try to be a little fancy)
Cook these together until the lentils and carrots are soft, 40-45 minutes. 
·       ¼ cup parsley (chopped – I didn’t have this available and it tasted just fine)
·       2-3 teaspoons salt (I definitely did not notice this part)
As I mentioned before, I made this soup as an easy to heat up lunch for the rest of the week.  I doubled it and therefore had a hard time figuring out how much salt to put so I put too much.  I suggest individually salting your soup.  Since this soup is so simple, I’m sure you can play around with it and add different winter veggies like potatoes or even rutabaga.  Spices are always fun to try out too.  You can always jar and freeze the soup if you get sick of it and it’s just great on a cold, windy day.  Next week I will have a squash and apples recipe that I tried and really liked.  Until then enjoy the soup!

Getting Settled In

Two weeks into apprenticing and so far so good.  A few general things about farming; you need a strong back and it’s amazing how quickly your body builds muscle memory for many tasks.  I’ve found this to be true about lifting certain shapes, washing eggs, splitting logs, etc.  Overnight, it becomes twice as easy to do things that you found difficult or tiring the day before.  Secondly, there’s little time for showering.  I know it sounds kinda gross to most of you but when you’re moving 10 hours a day in the cold you don’t sweat too much and generally don’t get too dirty so it works out.  I’ve taken two showers here so far.  Besides I’m too tired at the end of the day to do anything but rekindle the stove, cook, do dishes, and maybe read a little.  I suppose soon my body will get used to the constant action but as of now I’m still tired despite sleeping around 10 hours last night.  I hung out with a couple of the old apprentices at Buckwheat Blossom and also Leah’s, the last apprentice, roommates.  I made my best attempts at coherent conversation…  At least it’s not difficult meeting cool, nice people up here!
Which reminds me…does anyone have cross-country skis they want to give/sell me?  I’ve never done it nor had the motivation to but it looks like fun and everyone does it up in Maine.
I will start trying to do a recipe of the week for the adventurous cooks among my friends.  They of course will be seasonal and I can’t take any credit for most of these since I like to try recipes I find in cookbooks.  I’ll make a second post containing the recipe.  I forgot to take some pics for y’all to peep.  Maybe next week...I appreciate the texts and phone calls from those you who ACTUALLY care about me.  Just kidding, love you all…Peace!

“The earth laughs in flowers” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I wrote this Monday the 10th...

I spent the entirety of this Monday either jarring fermented food or preparing more food to be fermented.  All morning I put sauerkraut, and later Jeff’s version of Kim Chee into various jars either to distribute or save for family use. 
The sauerkraut is good; the Kim Chee is great.  It is not as spicy as traditional Kim Chee but has a nice kick.  What I like about it is that it doesn’t have just cabbage and garlic.  It also contains daikon radish, mustard greens, and carrots making it colorful, tasty, and sweet all at once.  I couldn’t help but munch along as I was jarring and jarring…..and jarring in the basement/garage. 
In the afternoon I put away salted lambskins so that they can be sent to a tannery at a later date.  The smell of lamb flesh in an attic is distinct but not so unpleasant.  Maybe I’m just weird.  It also doesn’t help that I’ve been utterly congested all week to the point I can’t really taste my food.  One of the results is that Sunday night I made a huge pot of lentil soup wayyy too salty; adding more water helped.  This will be my lunch for many days into this week.
Rest of the afternoon = brushing turnips and carrots til my face turns blue, then shredding them with a mandolin (mandolining?) until my face turns purple and my forearms burn.  I was glad to do animal chores and unload the pickup when given the chance.  If you were curious as to how sauerkraut is made by the way, it’s just shredded veggies that are salted and then sit in a cold area in a clay pot for at least a few weeks.  The anaerobic bacteria take care of the rest.  Tomorrow (Tuesday) I will be going to a MOFGA  (Maine Organic Farming and Gardening Association) conference.  I will learn and get to meet some other farmers…sweet!

09 January 2011

First week at Buckwheat Blossom!

Just completed my first week of apprenticing at Buckwheat Blossom Farm; an ecological, horse-powered farm.  There’s Jeff the farmer, his wife Amy, Amy’s sister Anna, and the two daughters Ruth and Leah (5 and 1 years old).  They’re a gracious, wonderful family and to be able to interact with their daughters once in a while is a welcome breath of laughter in what is otherwise a somewhat long, cold day of physical work.
I haven’t had time to take any pictures but I promise I will post some of the animals, the yurt, the outhouse, etc.  If I take a picture of myself, I’ll probably have a weird scraggly beard (sort of) and long hair.  Use your imagination.
Many of you are curious as to what I’ll be doing on a farm in the winter so here’s a chance to get a small peek into a typical day’s beginning here (Just the chores alone are enough to write a whole story):
Animal Chores (all twice a day)
·       Chickens - I get up around 6 AM (often to the rooster’s call), eat some breakfast (usually eggs from the chickens), and set off next door to the hoophouse where there are chickens.  I have to give them fresh water from a hose that must be always cleared of water afterwards lest it freezes and gets clogged.  Usually I feed the chickens organic corn/grains and sometimes compost right at the end of the day around 5 or 6 PM.  Sometimes I have to kick their water troughs because they freeze over.  At night I usually also collect their eggs which involves rolling up a huge tarp so I can get to the ~65 eggs.  I’ve also come to get into the habit of kicking the rooster because otherwise it will try to kick me in an attempt to assert its cock-ness.
·       Sheep – I just have to feed them a big bale of hay next door to the chickens.  Easy as pie.  They usually get water from eating snow…animals are so resourceful!
·       Horses – As you can imagine they’re big animals and sort of intimidating at first.  These aren’t your normal run of the mill horses; they’re work horses which means they have a lot of muscle and are generally bigger-framed.  They have a large enclosure surrounded by movable electric fence that I have to duck under to get through with two hay bales.  This is a major pain because they’re constantly trying to eat the hay before you get to the spot where you cut it open and spread the hay around.  Keep in mind it’s also snowy/icy on the ground partially because it’s an area that has just been logged to turn into some sort of farm land.  Millie, one of the Belgian horses is bossy and tries to nudge the others out of the way to get to more of the food.  Once in a while I have to fill a 100 gallon tub with water for them.
This is only the first half hour of my day.  Some of the other things I’ve done are split logs for probably 7 hours over two days, wash eggs, sort winter veggies, go to market (my favorite part of the week so far despite having to get up at 4:45 AM to get ready on Saturday!).
I’ve quickly settled into the yurt and figured out how to keep it warm for the majority of the night with the wood-burning stove.  I have resorted to keeping a hat nearby so that if the cold wakes me at 3 or 4 AM, I can put it on and go back to sleep.
Well I just realized I’ve written quite a lot…Next week I’ll let you know more about either the market, more about how winter veggies are treated/taste, cooking, or the meat (delicious).  If there’s something specific people want to know or you have suggestions, just comment below and I’ll try to answer.  Until next time…

“Eating is an agricultural act.” – Wendell Berry